Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, who died a few days ago, was a ruthless dictator comparable to the Saddam Hussein of Iraq.
A holdover from the Soviet era (appointed by Mikhail Gorbachev, no less), Karimov was known for his repression of the Muslim religion and of dissent of all kinds, and for forced child labor in cotton fields, his country’s chief export industry.
Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, said growing a beard or being seen praying five times a day could be enough to get you thrown in jail or to “disappear” mysteriously.
Yet Karimov was courted by Russia, China and the USA as an ally against radical Islamic terrorism. Uzbekistan was an important transit point for supplies going to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
What should US policy have been? Should our government be like China’s, which scrupulously refrains from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, no matter how odious their governments?
Or should the US have armed Karimov’s opponents, as was done in Libya and Syria, to being about a change in the regime?
Trying to bring about regime change in Uzbekistan might well have failed, and might well have brought to power a new government worse (from the U.S. point of view) than the old.
Embracing Karimov tells Muslims the world over that we Americans are their enemy. I think Karimov’s policies had the effect of promoting jihadist terrorism in the long run.
The best choice – or the least bad choice – is to be distant but correct. Treat rulers like him as neither friend nor foe. None of this should inhibit protests and boycotts by private citizens.
The problem is that such a policy would be incompatible with the United States maintaining military bases worldwide. If U.S. goal is military supremacy in every important region of the world, then the U.S. government will embrace some dictators and try to overthrow others.
The Plague of Karimov’s Rule in Uzbekistan by Juan Cole for Informed Comment [added 9/4/2016]
The West and Karimov’s Anti-Terrorism Charade by Craig Murray.
Why Did the US Just Bar a Former British Diplomat From Entering the Country? by Thomas Hedges on the Real News Network. [added 9/10/2016]
Where the War on Terror Lives Forever by Reid Standish for Foreign Policy.
Uzbekistan plunged into uncertainty by death of dictator Islam Karimov by Shaun Walker and Luke Harding for The Guardian.
[Video added 9/4/2016]